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Monday, September 30, 2013

Saturday Night Live: Tina Fey & Arcade Fire



This season represents one of the biggest transitional years in SNL's history. With the departure of longtime stalwarts Bill Hader, Fred Armisen and Jason Sudeikis (and possibly Seth Meyers later this season), only a year after Kristen Wiig and Andy Samberg departed, there is a huge influx of new talent. All of last season's featured players, including breakout ladies Cecily Strong and Kate McKinnon, have been elevated to regular status. Keenan Thompson is now the longest tenured cast member, while Taran Killam, following through from his breakout year last season, is poised to be the new male lead with Hader's departure. And there's six new featured players, all looking to fill the void.

That this is a transitional year filled with new faces is clearly not lost on the writers, as that fact dominated this season premiere, featuring into both the monologue and a sketch of its own, to mixed results. The joke in the monologue was good, but strung out, while the gag in the sketch would have been funnier if I wasn't already able to identify the new cast members (at least by appearance - in terms of names they're still "The Guy From The Phone Commercial, The Guy Who Was a Writer For A Long Time, the Girl, and the rest) thanks to the monologue, but was saved by the bit with Lorne. It was probably both necessary (and a good idea) to address this particular elephant in the room, but hopefully this is the last time the show will go to this particular well this season. You've made your jokes about the rookie cast; now lets see them earn their place.

Other Thoughts
In terms of hosting, Tina Fey did fine. As she joked in her monologue, it isn't like she has a ton of characters to reprise, so really, only her appearance on Weekend Update played to her status as a returning cast member. Beyond that, she did the kind of stuff any host would be asked to do, though for the most part, managed to elevate her roles, like the used car salesman's wife, above the material itself.

Aaron Paul acquitted himself well, stepping in as this episode's "celebrity guest who isn't the host but who shows up when the host is a recurring cast member or favorite". I wouldn't mind seeing him have a shot at hosting someday.   

The first new cast member to make an immediate impression was Noel Wells, thanks to her Lena Dunham impersonation in the Girls parody. I haven't ever seen the show, but that sketch was still very nearly my favorite of the night. 

Speaking (again) of the new cast, this has been said a million times already (and acknowledged by the show via Lorne's joke in the new cast member sketch), but it's a shame there isn't more diversity in the new hires or the show as a whole. The last couple years have gone a long way towards addressing the show's gender gap, with the women arguable more established at this point than the men (except for poor Nasim Pedrad, who wasn't in the episode at all). But it would have been nice to see the show add someone of a different ethnicity beyond five nearly identical white guys and a girl.

The only other new cast member to get a highlighted performance was Kyle Mooney, as one of the night's two Weekend Update guests, playing an outdated, schticky stand-up comic. On paper, the premise isn't a bad one (and is similar to Fred Armisen's Nicholas Fein), but in execution, like Fein, it doesn't really work. When the joke is that the joke's not funny, well, the jokes not terribly funny.

Thankfully, the other Weekend Update guest was Drunk Uncle, one of the few remaining (and one of the better) recurring Update characters (which reminds me: while we may have lost Stefon and, presumably, Cecily Strong's Girl at a Party etc., we also lost that stupid "childhood friends of the bad person du jour express support then whisper bad things about the person" bit with the departure of Armisen).

Weekend Update on the whole was perfectly cromulent, nothing too outrageous either way. Cecily Strong was competent if a bit stiff, which is understandable. It'll be interesting to see how she grows into the role over the course of the season, especially if the plan is for her take over for Seth outright.

There were some decent bits in the "boarding the plane" sketch, including the central gag of "Group 2" being the absolute last group to board a plane, throwaway lines like, "X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Business class", and broad stuff like Keena's comically-large carry-on.

Vanessa Bayer and Cecily Strong's "former porn stars hocking fancy items" bit returned, not surprisingly, considering it's one of the show's few remaining recurring sketches. For whatever reason, this one didn't make me laugh as much. Maybe it's diminishing returns setting in already, or maybe the jokes just weren't as polished this time out (though I did crack up at, "I thought I got banged into a solar eclipse. But I was really just locked in the trunk, looking through the key-hole.").  

Least Favorite Sketch: Nothing absolutely terrible this week, but the "Cinema Classics" sketch didn't work all that well. It was one of those "weird last sketches of the night" slotted in earlier, with a goofy premise that didn't quite land.  

Favorite Sketch: Holy crap you guys, that E-Meth commercial had me laughing so hard it hurt. Easily my favorite of the night.



Gate Attendant: Business travelers, please board so you can begin working on graphs.

Drunk Uncle: Nowadays, it’s just, can I get some Swiss chard on my Roku? Is that Amazon Prime pumpkin spiced?

Drunk Uncle: You went to school until you were 8, and then you got married to a factory!

Ree De’What: I’m not a good guesser. Just ask my wife. She asked me to guess her weight, and I said, ‘just your ass, or everything?'

Episodes Featuring a Game Show: 1/1
Starting the season out in true form. 
Episodes Featuring a Talk Show: 0/1
Episodes with a Monologue Featuring a Song: 0/1
Episodes with a Monologue Technically Featuring a Song That Is Not a Song for the Purposes of "Episodes with a Monologue Featuring a Song": 1/1


4 comments:

  1. I must be one of those people who've looked at comedy too much and now find bits about comedy funny, but I love the Nicholas Fein character, the Wiig/Armisen unprepared singers, etc., and will definitely miss Armisen's contribution to the show's weirdness. Fortunately Portlandia is there to tide me over. Also I loved new castmember Mike O'Brien's season 3 appearance as part of a couple that needs a birthday loan. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9nTSQAmNHTo

    Nasim Pedrad did make an appearance (briefly), in the plane sketch as part of the Brazilian/Italian/foreign contingent of rude passengers.

    How will losing Jason effect the inevitable Miley Cyrus show sketches? I hope it sticks around, but with Bayer wearing a different wig.

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  2. I was mighty impressed when 30 minutes in there wasn't one sketch that felt like it had gone on too long.

    // All of last season's featured players, including breakout ladies Cecily Strong and Kate McKinnon, have been elevated to regular status. //

    Tim Robinson — dorky frat-boy kind of guy — wasn't, but apparently he's moved over to full-time writing staff. (I only know that from looking him up after not remembering his name.)

    What's strange is that, featured players aside, this actually makes for one the more diverse casts in SNL's history. It's certainly the most balanced gender-wise: five men, five women. So much the weirder, then, to have just one woman among the six new featured players, all of them white. Just from a production slant, it makes no sense to not have a single African-American female on hand to play Michelle Obama or Rihanna or Oprah — never mind how inexcusable it is to lack representations of black women, Latinos, and Asian-Americans. I do suspect and even understand a bit that with Sudeikis, Hader, and Samberg gone there's probably a concern over having enough, or at least enough good enough, white guys to play most politicians and fellas next door and several celebrities, but intentional or not that group of half-dozen pasty-faced twentysomethings sure sends a bad message.

    No wonder the biggest laugh line of the night for me was Lorne Michaels' "Is it the black guy?" — although to be honest that's as much credit to his aloof image as anything.

    The repertory has certainly grown over the years, with featured players almost exclusively being de facto new or probational cast members, but it wasn't always that way. Often the faces and names after the main cast varied from episode to episode, previewing which of the writers would pop up on Update (A. Whitney Brown, Franken & Davis). I guess those days, like the days of little spotlight segments featuring Harry Anderson or Toni Basil or Pee-Wee Herman, are gone.

    Anyway.

    The Girls bit was hilarious. I saw maybe half of the first season, more than enough to get that everyone was fantastically spot-on.

    I'm glad you appreciated Aaron Paul's appearance even though you didn't jump on the Breaking Bad train. For my taste they went back to the well at least one too many times, especially with him basically only playing Jesse, even if that was part of the joke; they definitely should've gone straight from him to "Live from New York" in the cold open instead of bringing in another generic fella played by Kenan Thompson.

    I'd heard that Nasim Pedrad might not be back since she was in first position on a sitcom pilot for this season. Maybe that's why she was absent, even though it didn't go to series and she's back at SNL, or maybe she was sick last week. I said at the end of last season that I hoped to see more of her and that still holds true.

    Cecily Strong worked for me on Update even if she was a bit stiff on her first night. Heck, Colin Quinn was stiff for his entire tenure. Most anchors are basically themselves, but some put a little more performance into it, if not to the level of Stephen Colbert or the Daily Show correspondents versus it's-just-him Jon Stewart. I was actually happy to see her throw out a couple of lines with slightly clueless gusto, like the "Stay strong, Juice." I would bet with absolutely no actual clue that when Seth Myers leaves she'll gain another co-anchor as straight man or, if it's Pedrad, straight woman. (No Kate McKinnon jokes, please.)

    Episodes with a Monologue Technically Featuring a Song That Is Not a Song for the Purposes of "Episodes with a Monologue Featuring a Song": 1

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  3. @Dobson: I love the Nicholas Fein character, the Wiig/Armisen unprepared singers, etc., and will definitely miss Armisen's contribution to the show's weirdness.

    I'll definitely miss Armisen - he brought a lot to the show. I was never a fan of Fein, but I didn't mind him. Garth and Kat, the unprepared singers, however, drove me nuts. I just fast forwarded through them most times.

    Nasim Pedrad did make an appearance (briefly), in the plane sketch as part of the Brazilian/Italian/foreign contingent of rude passengers.

    Ah yeah, I remember that now. Hardly the most striking appearance, nonetheless.

    I hope it sticks around, but with Bayer wearing a different wig.

    Me too. And considering the first sketch had Bryan Cranston as Billy Ray, an additional cast change wouldn't be unprecedented.

    @Blam: I was mighty impressed when 30 minutes in there wasn't one sketch that felt like it had gone on too long.

    Good point. I agree.

    Tim Robinson — dorky frat-boy kind of guy — wasn't, but apparently he's moved over to full-time writing staff.

    Yeah, I had read that over the summer, but forgotten it. At least he's still around, though it's definitely weird that he got shifted to the writing staff full time like that.

    although to be honest that's as much credit to his aloof image as anything.

    That's really why it worked for me as well.

    Often the faces and names after the main cast varied from episode to episode, previewing which of the writers would pop up on Update

    Ah yeah, I'd forgotten about that. That was always kinda neat.

    Episodes with a Monologue Technically Featuring a Song That Is Not a Song for the Purposes of "Episodes with a Monologue Featuring a Song": 1

    Hahaha! That's going in the post!

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